Sports

Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire 

The Round Mound
Originally by
Updated January 27, 2020 34.5k votes 4k voters 88.7k views 82 items

List Rules Athletes who retired too late

Athletes who waited too long to retire for one reason or another made the choice to continue playing, sometimes for several years, when really they should have thrown in the towel. These football, basketball, baseball, and hockey players, along with fighters, were once at the top of their respective sports but couldn't quit while they were ahead. Instead they played into their 40s, 50s and sometimes 60s, and sometimes hurt their teams in the process of their denial.

Arguably, this list contains some of the best athletes ever to play in their respective sports. Professional basketball player Michael Jordan, hockey player Gordie Howe, and boxer Muhammad Ali are all regarded as some of the best ever but sadly they also come in as athletes who played well past their prime. Instead of stopping when they started to decline, they continued to compete and a small part of their legacy suffered because of it.

Perhaps the most erroneous case of not knowing when to stop is former National Football League quarterback Brett Favre. Number four played atop the league for 17 seasons, mainly with the Green Bay Packers, before retiring after the 2007 season. What followed was what was called the annual Brett Favre unretirement, a process that lasted THREE YEARS. In 2008 he played (poorly) for the New York Jets, then he retired again. A few months later he returned to the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings for the 2009 campaign. Lather, rinse, and repeat again in 2010. Spoiler: None of those final seasons led to a Super Bowl victory.

Athletes on this list prove that just because you are great at what you do does not mean you can do it forever. We feel bad for those athletes whose careers ended too soon due to circumstances out of their control but we also go sick of the athletes who refused to retire when they were old and washed up. 
list ordered by
1
Brett Favre is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
Age: 50

Nationality: United States of America

Birthplace: Gulfport, Mississippi, United States of America

Teams: Green Bay Packers, New York Jets, Atlanta Falcons, Minnesota Vikings

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2
Muhammad Ali is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
Age: 77

Nationality: United States of America

Birthplace: USA, Kentucky, Louisville

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3
Evander Holyfield is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
Age: 57

Nationality: United States of America

Birthplace: Atmore, Alabama, United States of America

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4
Mike Tyson is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
Age: 53

Nationality: United States of America

Birthplace: Bedford-Stuyvesant, New York City, New York, United States of America

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5
Larry Holmes is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
UnclScrewtape added Age: 70

Nationality: United States of America

Birthplace: Cuthbert, Georgia, United States of America

1949

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6
Shaquille O'Neal is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
Age: 47

Nationality: United States of America

Birthplace: Newark, New Jersey, United States of America

Teams: Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, + more

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7
Hulk Hogan is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
Dark Orion added Age: 66

Nationality: United States of America

Birthplace: Augusta, Georgia, United States of America

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8
Ric Flair is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
Dark Orion added Ric Flair
9
Chuck Liddell is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
Age: 50

Nationality: United States of America

Birthplace: Santa Barbara, California, United States of America

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10
Kobe Bryant is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
jaden-long added Dec. at 41 (1978-2020)

Nationality: United States of America

Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America

Teams: Los Angeles Lakers

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11
Terrell Owens is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
PhilMortenson added Age: 46

Nationality: United States of America

Birthplace: Alexander City, Alabama, United States of America

Teams: San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, Cincinnati Bengals, Buffalo Bills, + more

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12
Allen Iverson is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
Age: 44

Nationality: United States of America

Birthplace: Hampton, Virginia, United States of America

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13
Barry Bonds is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
AdamKoalaSchoenberg added Age: 55

Nationality: United States of America

Birthplace: Riverside, California, United States of America

Teams: San Francisco Giants, San Francisco Giants, Pittsburgh Pirates, Pittsburgh Pirates

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14
George Foreman is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
Age: 70

Nationality: United States of America

Birthplace: Texas, USA, Marshall

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15
O. J. Simpson is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
Age: 72

Nationality: United States of America

Birthplace: California, United States of America

Teams: San Francisco 49ers, Buffalo Bills

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16
Patrick Ewing is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
KirkSaw added Age: 57

Nationality: United States of America

Birthplace: Kingston, Jamaica

Teams: New York Knicks, New York Knicks, Orlando Magic, Orlando Magic, Seattle Supersonics, + more

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17
Johnny Unitas is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
Dec. at 69 (1933-2002)

Nationality: United States of America

Birthplace: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States of America

Teams: San Diego Chargers, Louisville Cardinals football, Baltimore Colts

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18
Sugar Ray Leonard is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
dwayne.blankenship added Age: 63

Nationality: United States of America

Birthplace: Rocky Mount, North Carolina, USA

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19
Joe Louis is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
omh755 added Dec. at 67 (1914-1981)

Nationality: United States of America

Birthplace: La Fayette, Alabama, United States of America

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20
Michael Jordan is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
Age: 56

Nationality: United States of America

Birthplace: New York City, New York

Teams: Chicago Bulls, Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards, Washington Wizards, North Carolina Tar Heels men's basketball, + more

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21
Alex Rodriguez is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
KXB13 added Age: 44

Nationality: United States of America

Birthplace: New York City, USA, New York, Washington Heights

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22
Jesse Orosco is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
UnclScrewtape added Age: 62

Birthplace: Santa Barbara, California

Teams: New York Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers, Cleveland Indians, + more

23
Emmitt Smith is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
Age: 50

Nationality: United States of America

Birthplace: Pensacola, Florida, United States of America

Teams: Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals, Florida Gators football

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24
Roy Jones Jr. is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
IanHarvey added Age: 50

Nationality: United States of America

Birthplace: Pensacola, Florida, United States of America

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25
Steve Carlton is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list Great Athletes Who Waited Too Long To Retire
bene added Age: 75

Birthplace: Miami, Florida, United States of America

Teams: Philadelphia Phillies, Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants, Cleveland Indians, + more

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